Tournament poker has built-in consolation prizes for players who fall just short of a title, and in big fields, they can be quite lucrative. For Frederic Normand, fifth place in a $3,000 No Limit Hold’em event at the World Series of Poker back in June netted him a payday of $177,732. Another deep run in a $3K event just over a week later, which ended in 11th place, was worth $44,823.
But even with the kind of success that Normand enjoyed this summer, there was a bit of emptiness in coming that close to winning a major tournament and falling just short. After spending some time home in Canada, an annual trip to South Florida led to a pit stop in Jacksonville.
There were a couple of small cashes, and then a $580 satellite, in which Normand won his seat into the WPT bestbet Scramble. Things swung the right way over the course of three days, and by Monday night, Normand was all too happy to have another opportunity at a major title as one of six players at the final table.
“I think I’m playing good lately. I’m taking my time more,” Normand said. “But yeah, it felt a bit sour after this summer. Obviously, I can’t complain with the good scores, but it feels like redemption time.”
Redemption was Normand’s to behold on Tuesday. After it took just 69 hands to go from six players down to a heads-up match against Heng Zhang, Normand sealed his victory with a turned pair of aces that ultimately held off Zhang’s straight and flush draws on the final hand.
For his efforts, Normand banked $351,650, which includes a seat to the $10,400 WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas in just a few weeks’ time. And as big a deal as a career-best cash must be, for Normand, the victory was a clear emotional high. After spending four days of poker approaching the game in a stoic fashion at the table, Normand let out an audible yell of celebration as the final card hit and his friends embraced him in a group hug.
“I’ve been playing poker for a little bit now,” Normand said. “I grew up [in the game] – I was a young adult. I’m still a young adult, but I was a younger adult then. I saw some guys on TV and I thought it was pretty cool. I wished one day I could win one of these or a WSOP. It feels surreal. In tournaments, it’s very hard to win in the end – so many things have to go your way. And I feel very grateful.”
Normand’s friends on the rail were seemingly an integral part of his path to victory on Tuesday. Between hands, and especially on breaks, Normand conferred with his small group of compatriots and kept himself focused on the task at hand. At times, they felt particularly important because at least half of the table was made up of local players who had a considerable contingent on the rail by default.
“It helps a lot, just for the support,” said Normand. “One of my friends here, he knows how much I’ve struggled in poker, and what kind of ride it has been in the last couple of years. He knows how big it is for us right now, me and him. So it’s very special.”
Normand took advantage of the chip distribution and the composition of the final table on his way to victory. After the first four players went out, including previous WPT final tablists Ian O’Hara and Brian Senie, Normand was pretty even in chips as heads-up play against Zhang began.
A few key pots went Normand’s way to give him a lead of more than two-to-one, and even when it came down to making a call that would create a pot containing well over half the total chips in play, Normand never lost his cool.
“I felt very comfortable,” said Normand. “I think a lot of the guys are more PLO players; I checked [beforehand] and I do play a lot of PLO too, but I think they were less experienced [in this kind of spot].”
After wrapping up in Jacksonville, Normand will finish the last leg of his annual trip to Miami. Along the way, he’ll try to make it an even more profitable vacation at the WPT’s next Championship Event, the WPT Seminole Rock ‘N’ Roll Poker Open, which starts in just over a week. “Yeah, I’ll go there and play,” Normand said. “I like to play a lot, so I’ll just keep firing. It’s fun.”
Before he hits the road, there’s the matter of a celebration after the biggest professional success of his life. While some would bathe themselves in the obvious excesses, Normand’s focus instead turned to some nagging real-world concerns that were set aside as he played this final table.
“I have laundry to do,” Normand said. “And I have to message the Airbnb host, because I broke a drawer. After that, I’m not sure. Dinner?”
Regardless of how things turn out Tuesday night, next week or the rest of this coming month. With his ticket to the WPT World Championship already punched, Normand is focused on the monumental task of trying to follow in the footsteps of a good friend – 2022 WPT World Championship winner Eliot Hudon. If it all plays out how he dreams it could, Normand would make it two major titles in as many months.
“One of my best friends, Eliot, won it last year,” said Normand. “So I’m going after him this year.”